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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

A History of Greek Philosophy / THE SCHOOL OF MILETUS / THALES


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The ‘beginning’ of things (for it was thus he described this assumed identity) was not conceived by him as something which was long ages before, and which had ceased to be; rather it meant the reality of things now. Thales then was the putter of a question, which had not been asked expressly before, but which has never ceased to be asked since. He was also the formulator of a new meaning for a word; the word ‘beginning’ (ἀρχή) got the meaning of ‘underlying reality’ and so of ‘ending’ as well. In short, he so dealt with a word, on the surface of it implying time, as to eliminate the idea of time, and suggest a method of looking at the world, more profound and far-reaching than had been before imagined.
It is interesting to find that the man who was thus the first philosopher, the first observer who took a metaphysical, non-temporal, analytical view of the world, and so became the predecessor of all those votaries of ‘other-world’ ways of thinking,—whether as academic idealist, or ‘budge doctor of the Stoic fur,’ or Christian ascetic or what not, whose ways are such a puzzle to the ‘hard-headed practical man,’—was himself one of the shrewdest men of his day, so shrewd that by common consent he was placed foremost in antiquity among the Seven Sages, or seven shrewd men, whose practical wisdom became a world’s tradition, enshrined in anecdote and crystallised in proverb. 
The chief record that we possess of the philosophic teaching of Thales is contained in an interesting notice of earlier philosophies by Aristotle, the main part of which as regards Thales runs as follows: 
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Cf. Guthrie, The Early Presocratics and the Pythagoreans - A Synopsis of Greek Philosophy

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